Surprise Senate Candidate Puzzles South Carolina Dems
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
We're going to help you hash out some money issues in a few minutes. Our money coach is here to talk about helping pay for health insurance. We'll speak with Alvin Hall and with a man who was just laid off from work earlier this month. He's trying to figure out how to pay for his health care with his unemployment check. That's in just a few minutes.
But first, the latest developments in that South Carolina primary race where an unemployed veteran named Alvin Greene, who did no campaigning somehow beat a former state representative, former city councilman Vic Rawl, who actually campaigned. Vic Rawl now says he's filing a challenge.
Yesterday on this program, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority Whip suggested that Greene's candidacy might have been a case of political trickery. Today, we've got the head of the South Carolina Democratic Party on the line with us, Carol Fowler. Welcome, thanks for joining us.
Ms. CAROL FOWLER (Chair, South Carolina Democratic Party): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: So, just to catch up with the latest news, Vic Rawl, who was the runner up in this race as we said, ran a traditional campaign, says he's filed a challenge with the Democratic Party to contest the results. What does that entail?
Ms. FOWLER: Michel, in South Carolina, in the case of a primary, if there are questions about how the election was conducted, it is up to the state committee of the political parties to hear those challenges. So Judge Rawl has filed a protest and has laid out some of his ground. And Thursday afternoon the state committee will meet and hear witnesses and hear attorneys for both sides. And we'll determine whether there were any irregularities in that election.
MARTIN: Do they have the authority to call for a new election and what would be the grounds?
Ms. FOWLER: The state committee does have the authority to call for a new election if it feels that there were sufficient irregularities in the process to have changed the outcome of the election. I have not seen the evidence that Judge Rawl intends to present. All I have seen is the letter of protest which is very general.
He will present witnesses and I think that he is basing this on problems with the voting machines. So while we do have the chance to call for a new election, the authority to call for a new election, that would be quite unusual in the case of the statewide race.
MARTIN: And the margin was significant. I mean, this is not a matter of, like, a couple of hundred votes. This was a significant win. Why do you think this happened? As we've heard, you know, Congressman Clyburn suggests that he felt that there was some trickery involved, as many people, you know, may know that the primaries are open and so therefore people who are registered Republicans, for example, can vote in the Democratic primary. I mean it's an open process, unlike some other states.
What's your analysis of this? Why do you think this happened?
Ms. FOWLER: You know, I have told so many people in the last week, this is the biggest mystery of my life. I've watched a lot of political campaigns and I have never seen an upset this great and this unusual. Mr. Greene did not campaign at all. In fact, I understand from a reporter that Mr. Greene's barber did not even know he was running for the Senate. So, it seems to me that that's one of the first people you tell because you're making conversation in the barber chair.
But that said, I don't know what caused it. As to Congressman Clyburn's theory, Congressman Clyburn and I are close friends and political allies. He and I are both practical, pragmatic people. We do not see black helicopters and feel the need to wear tinfoil hats. So if he says there is something out there that was wrong, I believe him. I have not heard all his justification for that, but I expect we'll be hearing more from him.
MARTIN: Well, the counterargument there, I mean, he does have his own reasons, which he described, explaining why he feels that way. But the counterargument is that Jim DeMint, the Republican nominee, the incumbent senator, is a strong enough candidate that there was no need to engage in this on the Democratic side. So is that a compelling argument?
Ms. FOWLER: That certainly is an argument. And I can't refute that. But that said, something happened here that we cannot figure out.
MARTIN: Have you ever met Mr. Greene?
Ms. FOWLER: I have met him. I met him for the first time when he came to file his paperwork to run for office. And that's the only time I've ever met him. I saw him that day. He came in with a personal check. I sent him away to open a campaign account, which the law requires and to bring back a campaign check, which he did and I spent about a half hour talking to him about the unlikelihood of his candidacy, but he was insistent that he wanted to run.
MARTIN: Did you ask him why he wanted to run? What did he say?
Ms. FOWLER: He said he thought that things were not going right in this country and that he could make a different in the Senate. I explained to him how costly and difficult a Senate race would be and I even suggested, which I do to many people who come as inexperienced candidates wanting to run for high office, I encourage them to look at maybe some local office while he got some experience. But he said he thought the biggest difference he could make would be in the Senate and that's what he intended to run for.
MARTIN: Well, that's, well, certainly interesting. What's next for you here? What's the next thing you have to do?
Ms. FOWLER: Well, I have to preside over this hearing on Thursday, which I am interested to hear. The Rawl campaign has had a lot of experts in here looking at the voting machines. I know that a good many voters in South Carolina and around the country have doubts about the accuracy of voting machines. So I think that's a service that the Rawl campaign is doing to bring in these experts to evaluate our machines and our election process and to either give us something that should be collected or give us more confidence in what we have.
MARTIN: Carol Fowler is the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. She was kind enough to join us from her office. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Hopefully you'll keep us posted.
Ms. FOWLER: I sure will. Thank you so much, Michel.
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